Directed by Fred Fred Anzevino
Music Direction by Jeremy Ramey
Choreography by Maggie Portman
Produced by Theo Ubique
At No Exit Cafe, Chicago
“Did you ever hear the story of the Johnstone twins
/ As like each other as two new pins?” -The Narrator from Blood Brothers
Blood Brothers is a dated work, about the Brits’ obsession with class differences, that audiences love
One of life’s mysteries is how Blood Brothers ran in England for 24 years and over 10,000 performances. Perhaps it is a British thing – their obsession with class differences that has dominated the Brits since Shaw’s Pygmalion? Whatever the reason, my first visit to the show seemed like ground I’ve already travel on.
The musical drama is the story of twin brothers separated at birth – one raised by a rich family, the other by the impoverished birth mother of the boys, Mrs. Johnstone (Kyrie Anderson). Her sons Mickey (the son she kept played by Charlie Mann) and Eddie (the son adopted by a wealthy couple played by Cody Jolly) lead the show with the Narrator played by Jordan Phelps.
I have mixed feeling about Blood Brothers, since I enjoyed the haunting performance and nice vocals by Kyrie Anderson and the excellent performance by Charlie Mann, whose acting from child to tormented adult was winning and his singing superb. But even with the character-appropriate work by Cody Jolly, I still wasn’t moved by the material. Blood Brothers, to me, came off as a dated, cliche-ridden diatribe about the British class system. Mrs. Johnstone is the noble, poor mother forced by circumstances to give up one of her twins and Mrs. Lyons (Victoria Oliver) is the heartless, paranoid upper class barren mother who over protects the twin, Eddie. Why Mrs. Johnstone doesn’t ask for money, since she lives on the edge of poverty, makes her seem like a dense person. When Mrs. Lyons fires her, she is reluctant to accept her severance money. Add Mrs. Lyons’ paranoid belief that the Johnstones are determined to follow her once she moves to the country after Mickey and Eddie (aged seven) become ‘best friends.’ just stretches credulity. I could go on: having adults romp around like little kids (as in the original) doesn’t work today. I’d use actual children. Lastly, the act two scenes that find Mickey marrying Linda (Dana Anderson), his life-long sweetheart (who Eddies grows to also love) leads him to suffer depression when his is laid-off, that ultimately leads him to commit armed robbery seems a stretch while Eddie, as the gentry, becomes a privileged establishment member. The entire story line comes off as Shavian anti-establishment polemic. After the haunting opening number, “Marilyn Monroe” sung wonderfully by Kyrie Anderson, the rest of the score and music was simplistic and unmemorable.
Yet, my associate Jacob Davis and I met three couples on the Redline who were at the same performance of Blood Brothers. I asked them if they liked the show. they replied enthusiastically, “Yes!” They thought the accents were Scottish not Yorkie or cockney. When I told them that I was a reviewer and I was trying to get some audience feedback, they agreed with all my reservations about the show, but they still like the overall production. That leads me to think that, as a reviewer, sometimes I over analyze a show’s warts and do not consider the ‘likability’ of a show. “Blood Brothers is a fable with cute songs and a lovable, flawed mother and a troubled son with a brother filled with goodness…” so says the six audience members on the Redline.
The lesson here: since Blood Brothers ran 24 years in London, had a successful run on Broadway and a fine national tour in the USA and has a worthy production at Theo Ubique, why not give it a try? I’m betting you’ll like it more than I did.
At No Exit cafe, 6970 N. Greenwood, Chicago, IL, www.theoubique.org, tickets $34 – $39, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through November 15, 2015